Tonight I am reading over my lecture for tomorrow’s conference at the Center for Humanities to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This is especially exciting for me because as a student more than 30 years ago the Center was my intellectual home. I had made up my own major, and so I didn’t have one department that was my base. But every Monday night I went to the Center to listen to Wesleyan faculty and distinguished visitors explain their research as they benefited from an atmosphere of intense, interdisciplinary activity. It was heady stuff for me, even if I understood little. When I was a senior I joined the Junior Fellow ranks at the Center, and the faculty really did treat us as colleagues. I got a taste of academic research, and I was hooked.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the evolution of CHUM a bit, and then about some major changes in the humanities over the last few decades. Nancy Armstrong, a distinguished critic from Duke, will be one of my respondents, as will my teacher Victor Gourevitch. I hope my paper meets his expectations! We start at 9:00 am.
The real fun for me starts at 10:30, when English professor Sean McCann will give a talk on liberal humanism. Historian Demetrius Eudell will talk about a humanism “made to the measure of the world” at 1:10 pm, and philosopher Lori Gruen will discuss Humanities’ Others at 2:50 pm. Respondents are former directors of the Center and current Wesleyan faculty. At 4:15 keynote Cary Nelson will discuss some of the political and economic pressures on the humanities. It should be an exciting day of vigorous intellectual stimulation.
The Center for the Humanities was one of Victor Butterfield’s great innovations, and now there are more than 150 such places all around the country. Wesleyan was a leader in bringing together teachers, scholars and students to examine problems from a multiplicity of perspectives, and the fact that so many others have followed our lead has much to do with why I refer to our school as “progressive.” We move ahead and others follow.
Join us at Russell House tomorrow anytime after 9 am to help celebrate The Center for the Humanities!